Organizing Google Classroom {Kindergarten Style)

I have made a video each day for my kindergarten students.  I thought it was about time I made one for my teacher friends!  I had no idea how much I ramble on and on until I had to start editing videos of myself talking.  Yikes!

Anyway, I fell into several traps when I first got started with Google Classroom that caused hours of backtracking and tons of confusion, and I thought I would share three of the most helpful tips I wish would have known before I had gotten started.  The focus is on 1) making sure students are logged in with their own Google account info in order to access Google Classroom, 2) using topics to keep everything organized within Google Classroom, and 3) recognizing that there is a difference between assignments and materials.  If you have already been using GC, you probably already know all of the info.  If you are just getting started, these tips might save you a bunch of time in the long run.

 I hope to have more videos posted soon.  Thanks for watching!

Distance Learning Is Killing Me!


             Is anyone out there???


Do you feel completely alone now that you are stuck at home utilizing distance learning techniques instead of being in your classroom?  I do.  It has been beyond isolating.  I don't mean that in an "I'm all alone" place in life.  There is never a shortage of people in my house.  In that sense, I am never alone, which can be equally annoying and overwhelming.  I am talking about my teacher world.  The day schools in Washington were closed, my entire teaching world crashed.  Connections were lost.  I don't get to see my friends each day (teacher friends AND kindergarten friends).  I spend my entire day on the computer just trying to keep up with the ever-changing plans life has tossed my way.  I think we are all feeling this way to some degree.  It feels like distance learning is slowly killing me or at least killing my spirit.

We are preparing for week 6 of home learning in kindergarten.  Although it has been a relatively smooth ride because I do tend to be hyper-organized.  The bumps and potholes along the way I have encountered revolve around trying to do everything a new way, and I am only speaking for myself as a teacher.  I can't imagine what the families of my students must be feeling!

I am not going to focus on the negative aspects of what is happening with all of this.  Instead, I want to highlight all of the ideas, resources, materials, and tutorial videos that have helped me find more digital-friendly ways to continue what I had already been doing in the classroom.

Daily Home Learning Videos
I decided several days prior to the state closing schools that my go-to move would be to create a home learning video for my students each day.  We were told late in the afternoon of 3/31 that the decision had been made...and we had to tell our students as we walked out of school for the last time together.  I told them I would see them each day in a video...and I stuck to that promise!  With videos, I am able to go about teaching a lesson just as I would in the classroom - minus 21 little audience members.  I have also created tutorial videos for parents and guardians.  It has been a bit challenging due to my internet connectivity being so spotty these days, but I am dedicated to this mission.

Zoom Gatherings
I also jumped on the Zoom bandwagon.  The second week of the closure, I set up and account and had a meeting scheduled to take place after spring break.  It really has made the kids feel better about not seeing their friends, and it's keeping us all "together" in the safest way possible.  Each week, we have a show and tell, eat lunch together, and I read a book.  After Friday's Zoom meeting, I sent all of students a Google Form (survey) for them to vote on next week's read aloud book...and whether they liked the book I read during the meeting that day.  This was a nice way to make the session a little more interactive.  I can see how a Google Form will be a great way to use as a digital assignment in the future.
I recently plopped down some cash on a green screen so I can be in various places during our meetings!  My favorite place is Disney World, so this week's meeting took place in front of Cinderella's Castle.

The Weekly Schedule
My most recent find was a weekly schedule template from Teach Create Motivate on TPT.  It will (hopefully) streamline our assignments for people in need of a visual schedule.

Distance Learning Agenda Slides with Timers (Editable) $11.00
They are meant to be used in Google Slides, but I found it difficult to add video links I wanted in the slide.  It was just a big pain in the rear.  I couldn't get the links to not embed into the image I was trying to link it to, which seemed to be ruining my life.  Because I was trying to add a link to a graphic, the video would then play in that teeny, tiny little graphic box with the play arrow inside of it.  Ummmmm, nobody wants to watch Cowboy Count that way.  So, I ended up editing in PowerPoint and saving the slide as a PDF to make the links easier for families to use.  This is the BEST $11.00 I have spent on TPT in a looooooong time.  The packet is robust with lots of ways I can use this in the classroom next school year!

Paper Packets
As much as this has pushed digital everything on teachers, I am still not sold that our youngest learners should be doing all of their work digitally.  Not at all.  Young children still need crayons, glue, scissors, markers, and paper.  They need to practice the motion of writing letters and numbers each day.

I provide my students with paper packets each week, and I will continue to do so for the remainder of this closure.  Yes, it's a pain in the butt to put together.  Yes, my district has supported me in this task.  They have my packets printed for me, and they provide a spot in front of the school for parents to pick up their student's packet any day of the week that is convenient for the family.  Not everyone has technology in the home.  Not every student learns best through devices.  This also allows me to continue using allllll of the same resources I had been using in the classroom.  Students are independent with many of the activities we do each day, and I do not want to create a situation where parents are having to guide them through every single task.  If they can own some of the work...let them.

I also make everything printable by week for families wanting to print their own work.  However, everyone has chosen to go grab a packet so far.  The upside to this is that we can add more to the packet than just worksheets!  I give them STEM challenges that include materials or a kit.  This week, we attached a packet of seeds to each work packet.  Guess what I'll be doing in Friday's video?  Planting seeds!
Picture taken by my amazing teacher buddy, Danielle!  She put together enough for both classes.  xo

Google Classroom
Oh.  My.  Goodness.  It is going to take a LOT for me to not sound negative about this Google platform. Instead, I will focus on how I organized it and how beautiful I made it all look because that's what is making me happy in this moment.

I learned to create "topics" and add materials and assignments to those topics.  It helps keep all of our resources organized.

I can will be easier now that I have had a few weeks of experience working with this platform.  I understood that it was somehow linked to my Google Drive account.  I actually love Drive and use it many, many time per day, but something about Google Classroom just did not jive with my brain.  For one thing, teachers were not trained to use Classroom.  There had always been that option from the district, but it was an option typically used by teachers in upper grades - not kindergarten.  My students don't even have technology in the classroom.  There has literally been no need for Google Classroom until now.  The other part of GC that totally threw me off was not realizing students have to be logged in with the school district Google account to use this platform.  {Insert sound of crickets in the background.}  I also did not realize my kindergarten students had Google accounts. Sigh.
Here are a few links to videos my district's Ed Tech department created that have helped get me through the dark times with Google Classroom are...

How to Use Google Classroom From Home:

How to Use Google Classroom for Students (I sent this to families in my class):

How to Use Google Classroom Classwork Features:

Creating Digital Assignments
Because my students do not have access to technology in the classroom, I never had a need for digital assignments.  All of that has changed, and I needed a quick way to make some of my classroom worksheets digital.  I found this fantastic series of tutorial videos from Amy Almada.  She actually has several I will share with you below.

PDF/Paper Copy to Digital: Are you looking to turn your PDF or paper worksheets into a digital assignment?  I know I was searching for the easiest way for my kindergarten students to keep up with their work digitally.  Check out this video on creating editable, digital worksheets...

Create Sorting Activities: Creating "cut and paste" sorting activities with Google Drawings, by Amy Almada.  After messing around for a few hours in Google Drawings, I realized it just was not going to meet my needs.  I think creating a Google Slide is a better option for kindergarten students because I can embed the background of the slide so students can't move it around, I found this particular video helpful because Amy talks about color coding the work being done for simple, easy grading.  That part starts around the 9 minute mark if you want to jump ahead.  It's brilliant, and I am using that in my upcoming phonics sorts.

Create Sorting Activities in Google Slides: I have found Google Slides to be the easiest way to create sorting activities for my students.  This tutorial is by ShakeUpLearning, and it really highlights making master templates that kids can't "mess up" if they drag and drop the wrong thing on the screen.

Sharing Your Google Created Content: Sharing Google created documents with your team or teacher friends and you don't want them to mess up your master copy?  Try this hack.  It will force them to make their own copy before they mess up your version.

Google Forms
I have been using Google Forms to collect information from families.  I sent one right away asking about printer availability and devices/internet availability.  A few snags I ran into right away were based on the "share" settings within my school district account.  Each time I create a form, I have to go into the settings to make sure I can share it with people OUTSIDE of the school district.  Otherwise, families get a permission error message when they click the form link.

Last week, I used Google Forms to allow my students to vote for the book I will read in this week's Zoom meeting.  They also had to give me their opinion of the book I read in our most recent meeting.  Here's what it looks like...

I found this tutorial to be very helpful.  I learned to make each form question required, and to make sure to collect the student's name on each form (helps for sorting, grading, getting in touch with the correct student if you are using Google Forms for assignments and quizzes).  Until this tutorial, I had no idea you could add images into the forms!  It was a game changer for the voting form I sent to my students.  I love that I could put a visual in for each book option.  Here's a link to the tutorial...

Well, these are the tips and ideas I have found most useful during this time of school closures. This is not to say that everything has been roses and sunshine.  I am simply choosing not to go there right now.  I would love to hear what has made your teacher-life with prek, TK, or kindergarten easier during this time of digital learning!

Back to School Sale August 6 & 7

Save up to 25% on my entire TPT store August 6 & 7!  Be sure to use the coupon code BTS19 at checkout.

Click the image above or this text to visit my store!
This is a great time to stock up on Editable "I Can" statements for both Pre-K & Kindergarten. It's also an opportunity to save on comprehensive packets, like my Sight Word Fluency Books for shared reading and intervention groups, which offers 30 weeks of multi-sensory shared reading!

Educational and Behavior Contracts (FREE)

Have you wondered about educational contracts for kindergarten families?  I have.  I thought about creating my own, but I found free contracts by The Owl Teacher that more than met my needs.  It's a basic agreement between the teacher, parents/guardians, and student that states we will all respect each other, work hard, and be encouraging of the efforts we put into motion.  It looks like this...

Download the entire packet of various behavior and educational contracts and forms for FREE by following this link:

Organizing Writing Workshop in Kindergarten

Writing is one of my favorite times of the school day.  It grants teachers the opportunity to  witness and support authentic writing, as well as incorporate phonics skills into the mix.  Organization for this time of day is critical in order for your time with students to be effective. This post focuses on the organization of writing workshop.

If you are not organized for your writing block, you are most likely searching for the tools and resources you need for students when you could be spending those precious moments instructing at your small group table.  Writing organization includes:
  • time management
  • being prepared each day -- stress free
  • how to store writing journals & papers
  • keeping track of writing assessments
  • having something for all the other kids to do while you work with a small group
  • managing supplies & resources
  • managing behavior
  • the list goes on and on  

Let's face it, conducting small groups of any type in kindergarten can sometimes feel as though you are herding kittens.  It felt that way for me, anyway.  That's when I came up with a stress-free solution that makes our morning writing routine run like a well-oiled machine.
At the teacher table; notice the heart words and color bins of writing workshop journals behind me.

Organizing the Time Frame
In my classroom, I have four to six students at my teacher table writing, and the rest of the class is off writing daily news.  That's it.  It's that simple.  I have a set amount of time for writing each day, and we all write at the same time.

Students at the teacher table are writing within the same genre that was selected by my teaching team (opinion, personal narrative, informational, persuasive), but students choose what their story will be about and continue writing that story until it's complete.  Some kids are done in one session.  Others are still writing the same story about Christmas break in early February.  Students not sitting at my teacher table are working at their own table space and writing daily news.  I've made sure to provide many, many, many resources for students so that I can work undisturbed with my small group.  From word lists to alphabet charts, students are able to independently write at their own level each day.

In my classroom, there is no "I'm done!"  We work on writing and illustrating until the timer beeps.  This grants plenty of opportunity to add more details to both the writing and illustration portions of whatever has been written.

Writing at the Teacher Table
Students at my teacher table are writing in their official Writing Workshop Journals.  Each journal has a little clip to save the page currently being worked on, and they look like this...

One little clip will keep students focused on their most current story.

I spiral bind the journals.  It saves us space at the table because we can fold the journals in half.

Students illustrate their story on the left side and write their story on the white lines over on the right.  The gray lines are for me.  I use underwriting until I can read the story AND students can read their own writing.  I realize there is a lot of debate about dictating directly on a student's work, and I don't care.  Doing so helps me see patterns in student writing and saves me time when assessing.  We write in these journals up to spring break.  From there, we move on and begin publishing a cookbook for Mother's Day.  After Mother's Day, we publish individual books.

In late January or early February, I start using self assessment charts with students when they write at my teacher table.  Students fill out the assessment as we read through the prompts and their work together.  The chart is FREE in my TPT store and looks like this...
Download this FREE assessment chart by clicking here.

What About the Other Students?
I want to be clear that writing in our official writing journals over at my teacher table might be the highlight of writing workshop for kids.  (For some reason, they simply LOVE writing with me!  Unfortunately, they only get to do so one day a week.)  The real star of the show would be the daily news writing that's taking place with the rest of my class while I have four to six kiddos writing with me.

Daily news writing during writing workshop is a HUGE chunk of organization for me.  It takes care of what the bulk of my students are writing during that time, and it gives choice in what students are writing about.  I have noticed much higher levels of student engagement when students choose their own writing topic.  

Because of the high level of engagement, behavior management is under control.  That was absolutely not the case before I began the daily news routine a few years back.  I tried hosting writing  It was too noisy in the room.  Students at my teacher table were too distracted by all of the fun happening around the room to get any writing done.  I also tried getting everyone to write in writing journals at once...failOh, my goodness!  That was a total hot mess.  There is one of me, and all I did the entire time was run from student to student.  It was just too frustrating for everyone involved.  Writing daily news was my saving grace!  Plus, I adore reading about what they plan on doing at recess, what happened when Grandma visited, and how their dog ate something he shouldn't have eaten.  They are driven to write news because they so badly want to tell their story.

Anyway, to read more about how I use daily news writing as a way of encouraging authentic writing each day, head over to my friend Nellie's blog.  I wrote an entire guest blog post on the topic.  Basically, kids write about whatever type of news they want to write about.  That's it.  That's the hook.  I don't give them a prompt or tell them what to write.  When I let them write from the heart, they write the most amazing news stories!  I provide news writing papers that usually tie into whatever seasonal theme we have going on in the classroom.  However, I always offer news writing paper that is family and school oriented.  Again, head over to Nellie's blog to read more about daily news writing.

Our daily news options are ready for the day!

Organizing Allllllllll Those Writing Papers
I keep all papers for writing workshop organized in file jackets.  They kind of look like a file folder, but they are seamed up both sides (like a pocket).  I use these little file jackets to store each student's writing there is one for each kiddo. I also use them to store our daily news writing paper options.

Each news paper theme has a file jacket.

Here's a writing journal in a file jacket.

You might have noticed I tape a mini version of the daily news paper that lives inside the file jacket on the front.  This keeps kids from rummaging through the jacket looking at all the papers.  All they have to do is look at the file jacket and take the page they want.

The jackets that hold each student's writing journal also has my assessment chart on the front and an alphabet chart on the back.  I learned this trick from retired kindergarten teacher, Julie Lay, and it has been one of the most helpful classroom tips ever!

Having an alphabet chart on the file jacket is a HUGE time saver for students.  I do have an alphabet chart in the front of each journal, but it's totally useless.  Plus, we clip the pages to the most current writing sample, which REALLY makes the chart inside the journal inaccessible.  When kids need letter support, they spent most of their writing time flipping through their journal to access that page.  It was mind numbing to watch.  They always have their file jacket in front of them while they are at my it makes sense to put something useful on it.  I created an "important words" list off to the side of the alphabet chart to write family member names, words kids write about over and over, and a few Secret Stories phonics reminders!

I created the assessment chart to cover all of the standards I can assess from student writing journals, and I printed them at 80% so they will fit on the front of the file jacket perfectly.  Having the chart located on each file jacket keeps the assessment and grading system together.  This is a fabulous time saver for me come report card time!

I staple the assessment and alphabet charts on with my long arm stapler.  Because I am the only person taking them in and out of the small group bins each week, stapling the charts on is more than enough. 

Writing Supplies
My students have their own pencil boxes full of the supplies they need to be successful.  If they are at their own table space, they use their own pencil box.  If they are writing at my teacher table for the day, they get to use my super-awesome, special, magical writing tools (black felt tip Flair pens and scented crayons).

Writing Resources & Supplies
Some of my favorite writing resources are free, while others are not.  Typical, right?  Here are a few of my favorites, along with links to the supplies I use to prep all of my writing workshop stuff:

Wrap It Up
To sum up a really long story, we basically need either our writing journals or news papers to pull off writing workshop.  We get right to work, it's stress free for me, and it's predictable for my young learners.  For students to become independent during writing, your classroom will require a few key resources, such as sight word lists and alphabet charts. Make sure to print enough that every student can access one when needed!  Laminate them and keep them in your writing station for easy accessibility.  Post seasonal words and vocabulary words that children can find without your guidance.  Everything else falls into place super quick due to the high amount of buy-in that revolves around writing news and stories that are exclusively theirs.  

Do you love writing time...or are you looking for a new way to start the school year?  I didn't wait for a new year to begin. I kept trying until I found a system that worked for me and my students. I am so glad I found a system that has continued to work for the past three school years.  Here's to using it again!

Receiving Love Notes from Students

Do you love -- I mean LOVE -- receiving notes from your kindergarten friends?  I do.  I finally cleaned out my work tote this morning, and I found a note from an unknown (no name) student.  This is not paper from my that means it was lovingly written at home just for me. Talk about authentic kid writing that comes from the heart.  {Can you hear my heart melting as I share this with you???}

Does this kiddo know me or WHAT? Ice cream, water, Skittles, and a wheel chair (scooter)!

I ended up having foot and calf surgery mid-May thanks to a ruptured tendon and ruptured plantar fascia.  {OUCH!} I was out of the classroom for two weeks.  I had not left the classroom for anything medical related since I went into pre-term labor with my first child in 1998.  This time around, being away was such a challenge for so many reasons.  All of this happened just weeks before the year ended, and you KNOW how much activities take place at the end of the school year.  Let's just say, there were a lot of things I normally do at the end of the year that did not get done.  I had a 2 1/2" incision on the bottom of my heel and another one mid-way up my calf.  My plantar fascia and a tendon in my calf were released (aka: severed).  I look at the picture below and cringe.  My toes were so swollen!  That glass of sparkling wine helped ease the pain of the swelling.  (Don't worry.  I can't tolerate pain meds -- unfortunately.  I wasn't mixing wine with medication.)

My sweet husband helped me down the deck stairs to sit by the fire pit.💕

When I went back to work, I was still unable to put any weight on my right foot at all -- not that I wanted to.  I was a scooter riding kindergarten teacher, and my students thought it was so much fun.  We could really get from the classroom to the gym quickly due to my super fast ride!  Check out my scooter below.  The kids names it "Big Blue"...

One week post-op.  Looking and feeling VERY rough!  Note the "no scooter riding" sign.

My kindergarten friends were very worried about me while I was away, and their worry continued even after I returned to work. They could see how much pain I was in and noticed my limited mobility.  They wrote me many notes and made cards to help me get well.  They are so sweet and kind and wonderful and loving and helpful and adorable and....that's a lot of "and's".  You get what I am saying, I'm sure.  The love kept pouring in after I returned.  The love note I found in my work bag today made me laugh out loud.  I had already forgotten how supportive and caring my young students were when I returned to work, as well as how much pain I was in at the time. (My tired face speaks volumes in the picture above.)  

Getting back to my original question, do you love receiving notes from your students?  Have you had something happen in your life that caused more love notes than normal?  Do you keep and cherish love notes from students?  How do you store them all?  I do not keep all of them, but I do hang on to a few each school year.  This one is a keeper! 

Keeping Track of Paper Assessments & Work Samples

Are you searching for a system to keep track of assessment papers?  Maybe you are really into electronic assessment tracking systems (like ESGI) -- I know I am!  ESGI changed the way I am able to present student growth data to my administration team and families.  Each year, I think I will move to a 100% electronic tracking system, but the reality of how much time I have in a day creeps in and takes over.  No matter how grand my intentions are at the beginning of the year, I need a place to contain and keep track of odds and ends work samples that I make a copy of (or - shhhh - confiscate) before a student takes it home.
Above: Independent work samples from a Father's Day card & a character trait mini book.

I often document developmental growth on papers that really have nothing to do with anything official or district related.  For instance, day to day papers that students work on independently, as shown in the images above.  Tons of growth can be documented this way, and I like to streamline where I keep it all.  Doing so helps me stay organized for parent conferences and meetings with administrators.  I literally have everything in one place, and I can pull student files as those conferences and meetings roll around.

I decided years ago that a large file cabinet did not work for me.  I would shuffle hanging files back and forth between work and was a disaster waiting to happen.  I tried the giant 5" spine binder system for a couple of years, but that became bulky and heavy.  Before I knew it, it had grown into three ginormous binders.  It also got old to constantly punch holes in every paper, and the little half sheets of paper never fit nicely in a binder.  I did like the concept of pulling each student's file when it came time to dart off to a meeting, though. So four years ago, I switched to a hanging file tote box system and never looked back!
Portable hanging file totes can easily travel between work and home, if need be.

The file tote I use (shown above) came from Office Depot.  You can pick one up on Amazon or at your local Office Depot.  I realize the clear box is a bit messy looking, but I learned the hard way that I need to be able to see if any stray papers are floating around in the bottom of the box.  {Live and learn.} With this system, everything stays together.  There is an instant place to stick work samples.  I keep a date stamper on my desk and change the date each morning before school starts.  Anything I snatch gets stamped and filed right away.  I also like that I can take the entire box home if I choose to work from home.
I used the font KG Red Hands to create these tabs.  It's free on TPT!

Each student as their own hanging folder with a clearly marked name tab.  New work goes in the front of each file...older work samples are in the back.  I print out all of the ESGI reports that I use during parent conferences and store them in these student files, as well.  Any paper assessments my district or team is using to monitor growth are also in the file tote. I also keep papers (or copies of papers) when students are unable or  unwilling to meet lesson expectations (short attention span, lack of motivation, slower worked, someone needing more processing time, etc.).  Keeping track of work samples has aided in multiple students receiving much needed assistance from behavior and special education teams over the years.
As new students enter the classroom throughout the year, I simply hand write name tabs.  {Lazy!}

This system has really made it so simple to share work samples during IEP and behavior support meetings.  Any time a parent/guardian requests an impromptu meeting to check in on student growth, I have everything at my fingertips.  Because I hang on to work samples this way, I am able to show growth from the very earliest days of the school year, which is just so stinkin' cool!  The difference of work samples from September to March are typically quite drastic in kindergarten.  As a teacher, I will go through a student's file and put myself at ease that he/she is growing; even if it is a little slower than the rest of the class.  Often times, showing growth in work stamina is really all that is needed to put a worried parent at ease.  (We all want to feel confident that our babies are growing, right?!?!)

So you use a similar system or something totally different?  I would love to hear about the system you use to keep track of assessments.